Ironclad Tactics is a tactical turn-based strategy game featuring elements of collectible card games mixed with a lane/grid-focused battlefield. Set in a steampunk-themed alternate history version of America during the Civil War, you will fight against the Confederacy using steam-powered robots and other mechanical gadgetry.
With a unique blend between turn-based and real-time combat, you’ll have to think fast on your feet to play your cards right as you advance through a campaign story that has its own fully illustrated graphic novel.
This game has one of the most original world settings we’ve seen in a long time – but is it a good game overall? Read on to find out…
Each match will be on a grid of 3 or 4 horizontal lanes. You start at one edge of the battlefield while your opponent starts at the other. Cards from your 20-card deck will start to appear slowly on a sort of ‘conveyor belt’ moving across the bottom of the screen from left to right. If a card drops off the end of the belt, you won’t see it again until it comes back around much later, meaning that the cards in your hand have a limited time use – one of the game’s more unique mechanics that I found provided an interesting time-sensitive dimension to the gameplay.
Cards cost action points, which slowly increase over time according to the rate determined above the dial in the bottom corner. The hand on the dial automatically moves around clockwise, so you must play your cards at the right time in order for them to take effect otherwise you’ll miss the correct timing. This is how the game incorporates a kind of blend between turn-based and real-time strategy: you can’t pause the clock, but it moves slowly enough and in the phases of the turn so that actions get carried out simultaneously with the opponent’s.
The goal of the game is to earn enough Victory Points to win the match, determined by the VP slots that you need to fill up in the corner of the screen. VPs can be earned through units that have a starting amount of VP medals successfully carrying them all the way across the grid to “drop off” their VPs over the edge of the screen. Sometimes VPs can be earned other ways but this is the main way to get VPs. Your goal is also to stop your opponent from earning VPs and you’ll do this by placing units in the way to block and attack them.
Units can be infantry or upgradable chassis robots – infantry are weaker but can often move faster and already have their own weapons, whereas most robots are just a chassis that then needs upgrading with weapon cards which costs more Action Points overall. Weapons will have a set amount of damage they can deal as well as a firing range that could be in a straight line or sometimes wide enough to hit a few rows simultaneously. Damage dealt to units will reduce their health until they are destroyed.
Story and puzzle missions in the single-player campaign often play very differently to the PvP version of the game, but the methods and strategies employed are usually similar. When playing for the first time, the game starts out feeling a bit slow, as you can’t hurry up the turn dial – but you soon come to appreciate the tick-tick-tick of its pacing and it soon doesn’t feel long enough.
You can’t stop it to plan a course of action so you need to be able to think fast on your feet, with a shorter amount of time than most card games allow. Combined with the pressure of your cards dropping off the conveyor belt, you’ll often be frantically playing cards right after you’ve earned enough AP to use them, just in the nick of time. It’s an enjoyable, if occasionally stressful, experience.
Modes and Features
The bulk of the Ironclad Tactics is to be found in the single-player campaign, as this is the main method for unlocking cards in the game as well. As you advance through each mission, there are three ways to play it – Story, Puzzle and Skirmish.
The Story mode is the main way of progressing through the campaign and for these games you’ll have to use your own custom decks that you’ve crafted from the cards earned so far. They have unique setups and victory conditions so you’ll have to be flexible and play it by ear.
In Puzzle mode, you’ll be given a pre-built deck which you then have to beat the mission with. This mode presents much more of a finely crafted “turn by turn” puzzle where there’s often a right way of succeeding, you just have to work out which card combinations are required of you to beat it. It’s challenging and can be frustrating at times (like all good puzzles are, and should be). Importantly, beating each mission on this mode will further unlock cards available for general use in decks, so you can’t really afford to ignore the Puzzle versions of missions if you want to have a better chance at beating the Story modes.
Skirmish is the name of the PvP mode that lets you play on that map with another live player. It’s interesting that this is available for each mission in the story campaign, as it provides a wide range of options for grids to battle on. If you’re playing on Steam, you can invite friends to jump in directly which is neat (as long as they own the game, obviously).
The best thing about Ironclad Tactics is that, since you pay for the full game upfront, you don’t “buy” cards or boosters. Everything is unlocked through playing the main campaign. This provides a very enjoyable experience that you don’t have to feel will bleed you of more money further down the line. While there are official expansions available as well, these just expand the content of the game rather than lock you out of required content which you then have to shell out for.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
Deck building in Ironclad Tactics game is incredibly easy – you look at the cards you want and you click to add and right click to take away copies of that card in your deck. I especially like that under the card is a small “bar” that fills up the more copies of the card you add – it shows you at a glance what you’ve got added. The filters at the side are also detailed enough to sort them so you can find what you need quickly and easily.
For both the Story missions, you may want to tailor your deck specifically to each new challenge as you encounter it. You’re more likely to succeed if you don’t rely on a single deck to carry you through the game, especially as each Story win will unlock you more cards that you can build with. Some missions might require Infantry units to take capture points (which most chassis bots cannot do), whereas other missions need more bots to stampede through the enemy’s defenses as they are sturdier. Don’t forget as well to finish the Puzzle versions and extra objectives for each mission to unlock even more cards as well.
When building decks for PvP, it’s a bit more of a free-for-all: you’re free to pursue whatever strategies you like. Bots are much stronger than Infantry and can walk over them, killing them instantly. So if you’re going to use Infantry, it’s a good idea to think about how you’re going to protect them from chassis bots. Chassis bots are expensive, requiring more AP to get going with a weapon equip as well, but they’re tougher and will turn Infantry into mince meat as well as being able to be repaired, restoring their health.
Ironclad Tactics is a solid, polished experience that is worth paying for upfront. It gives you many hours of content to explore and unlock without putting in any more money. Crucially, its the way that content is unlocked which makes this distribution method so appealing: you have to beat the different types of modes for each mission with added objectives to unlock everything. If you’re the kind of player that wants to jump right in to PvP card battles, you might be a bit disappointed: there isn’t any way to bypass the content unlocking method, so you won’t have a collection of cards to work with just yet. However, once you’ve put enough time into the game, you’ll then be able to play PvP games.
My favorite thing about the game is definitely the graphic novel and its theme and story: there haven’t been many other card games that go for this kind of steampunk feel, let alone an alternate history theme based in America’s Civil War era. In a world full of fantasy card games, the developers have made a bit of a gamble here. The game art is fantastic as well, conveying the world’s Americana-meets-steampunk flavor perfectly.
Does it pay off? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, ultimately – but I definitely think so. It’s fun, challenging, but sometimes frustrating – it doesn’t feel like a traditional TCG/CCG as the card playing is just not dynamic enough. It feels more like an RTS (real-time strategy game) that uses randomized cards to stagger gameplay. It will also take a lot of time to unlock everything, but that’s what you’re paying for, right?
It’s rare to find a game these days that not only delivers some genuinely unique mechanics, but also contains a fully illustrated graphic novel to boot. You’re going to get more than your money’s worth here, just for the fantastic story alone. Check it out if you want something a bit different from the usual fantasy fare out there. The graphic novel alone is worth the price of admission.
For more screenshots, click here.
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